Image of group of girls in masks

A community for the mind and body

Students in the Meraki living-learning community take a break from studying in the Payne Hall lounge.

“We are all here for each other.”
-Eliza Brooks


On a cool October night, a crackling bonfire spit sparks and smoke over Blacksburg with each new log that was added to the blaze. For Eliza Brooks and the other students huddled around the fire, this was a chance to connect and relax outside of the norms of college life, a chance to sit under the stars and fully appreciate the community known as Meraki that got them through a turbulent time.

As s’mores gave way to conversations, Brooks realized that all the work she put in as a resident advisor and co-president of Meraki was worth it. She looked around as everyone chatted about the successes they shared over the last semester, and, perhaps more importantly, the challenges. Brooks realized that over the last few months, she witnessed Meraki become a family.

Students need to be healthy on all levels

“We are one of the only communities that directly targets health. A lot of living-learning communities have that aspect to it, but I feel like Meraki is the only one that has that as its core purpose. We are well-positioned to handle any challenge. We are all here for each other,” Brooks said.

Formed in 2019, Meraki is one of the newest stars in Virginia Tech's constellation of living-learning communities. These residential halls provide valuable experiences both inside and outside of the classroom. Each community possesses its own theme or academic specialization. At Meraki, the goal is to help students become the best versions of themselves by being dedicated to the well-being of mind and body.

‘I found my people.’

Ryan Breedlove was nervous when he came to college and wanted to find a group of people where he could belong.

“I've always been more introverted and didn't know if I'd ever really find my people, but those worries disappeared instantly when I joined Meraki. Everyone was extremely sweet and welcoming,” said Breedlove, a second-year student studying human, nutrition, foods, and exercise. “Meraki is a family. It helps you become a better person, a better student, and it prepares you for what life is like at college. I found my people.”

The community helped Breedlove prepare for classes by creating a personalized schedule that still gave him time for his favorite activities, and also by being around others that encouraged academic success.

Beyond those preparations for students, Meraki hosted a plethora of events that promoted physical health and mental wellbeing. While following COVID-19 guidelines, students ate dinner together on campus, watched movies, and had vital face-to-face interactions.

Led by Kevin Wogenrich, program director of Meraki, and Sarah Lynn, a Ph.D. candidate in human nutrition, foods, and exercise, the pair created events that allowed students to grow safely and responsibly.

“Students need to be healthy on all levels. It is our mission to ensure that students have the best possible experience and the best resources to make that happen, even during COVID-19,” Wogenrich said. “Students in living-learning communities show greater academic success, greater involvement, greater development, and are more responsible. Never has this been more important and valuable. At Meraki, we are dedicated to our students’ success inside and outside the classroom.”

Nia Salway enjoys a relaxing walking meditation at the Duck Pond.

Bleachers at Lane, Hikes at Cascades

From yoga and running the bleachers at Lane Stadium to outdoor meditation and the Friendsgiving meal that capped the challenging fall semester, there was something for everyone.

“We want to focus on building relationships that can not only support us through challenging situations, but also through our entire time at Virginia Tech and beyond,” said Brooks, a sophomore in the Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences. “This was done for me when I joined this community in fall 2019, and we wanted to make sure that the incoming students had the same experience in fall 2020.”

'Students need to be healthy on all levels.' -Kevin Wogenrich

Some of those special moments have been created on the weekly Saturday hikes around the mountains that envelope Blacksburg. From trips to Cascade Falls that feature picturesque cliffs of water to the views that make people understand how the Blue Ridge Mountains got their name, Meraki students spent plenty of time in the splendor that envelops Virginia Tech.

For Nia Salway, a first-year member of the Meraki family, a socially-distanced football game on the Drillfield and a trip to the Cascades were some of her favorite memories. As water incessantly pounded the rocks at the waterfall, Salway saw the beauty of nature. The existential moment of peace and clarity in a turbulent world and gave a small sense of normalcy for 2020.

But the most impactful part of Meraki for her is Brooks, her resident advisor.

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  • Image of Shreya Ananth in yoga pose.

    Shreya Ananth uses yoga to gain a healthy mind and body

  • Image of Kristen Chang preparing food in front of students

    Kristen Chang gives a food demo at the 2020 Meraki “Friendsgiving” event.

“Eliza has helped our community feel close while taking all the necessary precautions COVID-19. From the check-ins over Zoom to the socially distant outdoor interactions, Eliza does everything she can to show us that she cares,” Salway said. “And we all love her for that. She’s planned so many activities for all of Meraki.”

That closeness wouldn’t have been possible without the ongoing efforts of Wogenrich, Lynn, Brooks, and others who worked tirelessly to ensure that the Meraki family would remain the same during COVID-19.

As Meraki finished a socially distant Friendsgiving, they said goodbye — for now. Their transformational experience in Meraki prepared them for a virtual end to the 2020 semester and for the road that lies ahead.

Meraki is a partnership between The Cook Counseling Center; the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise; Hokie Wellness; Housing and Residence Life; Recreational Sports; Schiffert Health Center; Services for Students with Disabilities; and Student Affairs Well-Being.